LivAbility Magazine
Caregiver Susan Shields and her son Michael pose for the camera.

By Anthony Mitchell
Photo by Johanna Huckeba

Michael Shields has lived with high level quadriplegia since 2000, right before his 21st birthday. Pre-injury he lived a self-proclaimed life of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” and during the height of his addiction his relationship with his mother was strained; but as people new to their injury often find out, most of his friends weren’t emotionally equipped to stick with him as he adapted to his new life.

When it felt like he had no one, his mother Susan Shields was always there.

About 65% of caregivers are family members. Most consumers prefer having someone they know to provide their care, and it would be almost impossible to keep up with the demand for caregivers without family stepping to the plate.

For Susan, helping her son was never a question of if, but how. When he was injured she had zero working knowledge of the various needs of someone with quadriplegia. It wasn’t until after she completed 40 hours of training through Ability360 that she felt adequately prepared.

Becoming Michael’s caregiver immersed her in the field that would become her passion. Frequent correspondence with the administration of Michael’s high school led to a job in its health office, and she has been working in a school nursing office ever since. She recently enrolled in school to get a CNA license.

“It kind of forced me into nursing, but I have great compassion for people with disabilities and having seen some of the ways the medical field treats people has made me more of an advocate,” said Susan.

In his various dealings with workers in the medical industry, Michael has felt that many people aren’t in it for the right reasons. He says this makes him appreciate individuals like his case managers at Ability360 even more.

“Our case managers have been absolutely amazing. It’s never been a question about going anywhere else, If we’ve ever had any issues they’ve advocated for us… when you don’t have that it makes a big difference when you’ve been with [a company] that does,” said Michael.

When Ability360 got him set up with home modifications and voice-activated software that helped him take him his independence back, Michael felt that workers with similar disabilities had an advantage that able-bodied medical professionals didn’t have.

“You walk a mile in a man’s shoes and it changes your perspective, and when you don’t have that experience it’s hearsay and it’s limited. When I was first injured my mom was bouncing off the walls because she had to turn me every 4 hours, and when you have someone who has been through it and seen the other side who says ‘it’s going to be alright’ that’s priceless,” said Michael.

Michael is now pursuing a BA in Christian Studies from GCU, and has found camaraderie in the church.

“I’ve banded together with a bunch of men from the church who had been through a lot of the same stuff that I did. They just didn’t hit the brick wall like me,” said Michael.

For this mother-son combo, navigating the patient/caregiver relationship is still an occasional point of friction, but the advantages of having Susan’s help on and off the clock are enormous.

Portrait: Anthony Mitchell

Anthony Mitchell

Anthony Mitchell is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite school of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University. He is a previous anchor/reporter at PBS as part of the Cronkite news program making his first foray into Public Relations. His hobbies include catching up on political news, eating leftovers, and pretending he’s going to start working out again.